Education Gadfly Weekly
Volume 13, Number 4
January 24, 2013
Opinion + Analysis
Cutting to the chase
Questions about Common Core cut scores
Is it good news or bad?
2012 State Teacher Policy Yearbook
Like McKayla Maroney, NCTQ is unimpressed
What do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance?
Taking “the glass is half full” to the extreme
Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality: Evidence from 9th Grade Teachers in North Carolina
Evaluating the hidden power of character
Trusting Teachers with School Success: What Happens When Teachers Call the Shots
Answer: Some pretty cool things
Inaugurations and graduations
Mike and Kathleen are skeptical about the President’s education agenda and newly released high school graduation rate data. Amber thinks about low-income high-flyers.
Putting a Price Tag on the Common Core: How Much Will Smart Implementation Cost?
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts and mathematics represent a sea change in standards-based reform and their implementation is the movement’s next—and greatest—challenge. Yet, while most states have now set forth implementation plans, these tomes seldom address the crucial matter of cost. This report estimates the implementation cost for each of the forty-five states (and the District of Columbia) that have adopted the Common Core State Standards and shows that costs naturally depend on how states approach implementation.
Chester E. Finn, Jr. / January 24, 2013
Tests in use from Kindergarten through eleventh grade need to have cut scores that denote true readiness for the next grade and that culminate to "college and career readiness."
Photo by albertogp123
As the U.S. education world eagerly awaits more information about the new assessments that two consortia of states are developing to accompany the Common Core standards, dozens of perplexing and important questions have arisen: Once the federal grants run out, how will these activities be financed? What will it cost states and districts to participate? Who will govern and manage these massive testing programs? What about the technology infrastructure? The list goes on.
The assessment questions that weigh most heavily on my mind these days, however, involve “cut scores.” For if the Common Core is truly intended to yield high school graduates who are college and career ready, its assessments must be calibrated to passing scores that colleges and employers will accept as the levels of skill and knowledge that their entrants truly need to possess. Adequately equipping young people cannot wait ‘til twelfth grade, nor can the assessment sequence. The tests in use from Kindergarten through eleventh grade need to have passing scores that denote true readiness for the next grade and that cumulate to “college and career readiness.”
That’s a daunting challenge
The Education Gadfly / January 24, 2013
In his second inaugural address, President Barack Obama mentioned two pieces of his K–12 policy agenda: his plans to train new math and science teachers and his plans to improve school safety. Politics K–12 notes that inaugural addresses are not typically policy-laden, so one can fairly infer that these two items top his second-term to-do list. In this week’s Education Gadfly Show, Mike Petrilli—self-professed “koala dad”—expresses unease over placing STEM education on a pedestal over all other subjects.
Last Friday, a federal appeals court upheld Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s public-sector-union reforms in full, rejecting the unions’ charges that the law violated the Equal Protection clause and the First Amendment. But according to the School Law blog, the practical effect of the ruling is “unclear” due to litigation in a separate state court. We will be watching.
A fresh batch of federal data shows that the U.S. public high school graduation rate rose to 78.2 percent in 2010—a thirty-five-year high. But before you bake Arne Duncan a cake and sing “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow,” be sure to listen to this week’s Education Gadfly Show for a wee slice of humble pie. Has our fixation on graduation rates incentivized schools to cheapen the value of diplomas—say, with bogus credit-recovery programs?
After the ouster of Indiana State Superintendent Tony Bennett (who, subsequently, was snapped up by Florida), Hoosier Republicans began to push for
Daniela Fairchild / January 24, 2013
Spanning a manageable 2,000 pages, this sixth edition of the National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ’s) annual teacher-policy yearbook focuses attention on states’ teacher-preparation policies (one of five areas tracked by NCTQ as part of this initiative). And, once again, NCTQ finds them wanting. Across the items investigated (including the rigor of admission requirements in teaching programs, student-teaching expectations, and accountability systems linked to the performance of prep programs’ alumni when they reach the classroom), the U.S. averages a D-plus. Only four states earn respectable marks (still a meager B-minus): Alabama, Florida, Indiana, and Tennessee. Three others (Alaska, Montana, and Wyoming) earn Fs. Looking closely at specific policies is even more depressing: Just three states (Indiana, Minnesota, and Tennessee) require high school teachers to pass content-area tests in their subjects without allowing loopholes (most of which are for math and science teachers). And Texas is the only state that norms its admissions exam to the general college-bound population (all others norm it to the prospective teaching population, setting a lower bar than for other college and university students). Still, NCTQ acknowledges that states are slowly moving in the right direction. In 2007, when the organization began scrutinizing these data, no state held its prep programs accountable for the quality of their graduates; today, eight do. And since 2011, fourteen states (including Ohio) have improved their teacher-preparation policies in some way. Kudos to NCTQ for continuing to spotlight one of
Brandon Wright / January 24, 2013
This report by Stanford’s Martin Carnoy and the Economic Policy Institute’s Richard Rothstein offers a catchy press-release headline: The U.S. Fares Better on International Assessments than Previously Thought. But that isn't actually true. Analyzing PISA data, Carnoy and Rothstein argue that the U.S. educates its disadvantaged students about as well as similar nations—and, for that, America should be praised. But the problems with the study are myriad. First, the authors use a “very approximate” index—the number of books in a student’s home—to determine social class. Others have explained the methodological flaws with this approach. Second, the authors engage in some dangerous statistical gymnastics to prove their point: Based on the assumption that students of low “social class” bring down average U.S. scores, Carnoy and Rothstein re-estimate PISA attainment (by using the books-in-the-home index) to norm the proportion of students in each class. They find that, if the U.S. had the same proportion of students in lower social classes as other nations, then it would rank fourth in reading (instead of fourteenth) and tenth in math (instead of twenty-fifth). The conclusions of this report only affirm the very significant education problem that it’s trying to downplay: We have a greater proportion—and a significantly greater number—of low-scoring and low-income students than other OECD countries. Carnoy’s and Rothstein’s flawed analysis and misleading primary conclusion is at best a diversionary ploy.
SOURCE:Martin Carnoy and Richard Rothstein, What do International Tests Really Show About U.S. Student Performance?
Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality: Evidence from 9th Grade Teachers in North Carolina
Andrew Saraf / January 24, 2013
The teacher-evaluation debate follows a well-worn path: Traditional evaluation systems (in which upwards of 99 percent of educators are deemed “effective”) are meaningless, argue reformers. New models that rely heavily on value-added test-score data are unreliable and unfair, counter others. This new NBER working paper from Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson provides the debate new turf on which to tread: Based on data from the 1988 National Educational Longitudinal Study, Jackson channels Paul Tough to argue that students’ “non-cognitive” abilities (adaptability, self-restraint, motivation) help explain their success. Noting this, teachers should be evaluated on them; yet they are rarely considered by current metrics. The report has two parts. First, Jackson shows that the “non-cognitive factor” (which he proxies with variables like absenteeism, suspensions, and grades) is predictive of college enrollment and lifetime earnings—more so, in fact, than cognitive ability. Jackson then evaluates whether teachers can affect this “non-cognitive” factor. Using 2005-10 North Carolina data, he finds that teachers’ impact on student test scores is only weakly associated with their impact on improving youngsters’ non-cognitive abilities. In other words, evaluations that rely exclusively on test scores fail to capture the full breadth of teachers’ contributions to student outcomes. Jackson concludes: Other variables that assess ability to improve students’ non-cognitive skills, variables such as student suspensions and absences, should also be used in teacher assessments. And the debate marches on.
SOURCE: C. Kirabo Jackson, "Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality: Evidence
John Horton / January 24, 2013
This book awakens an established but sparingly practiced and often unknown initiative in K–12 education: teacher autonomy. Authors profile eleven schools (seven of them charters and three of them in Minnesota, a pioneer in the "teacher-led-schools" initiative) that embrace teacher autonomy to differing degrees and study the policies and practices by which they operate. Ten criteria are used to judge the autonomy level of the teachers including their agency over: staff hiring and firing decisions, budget allocations, curriculum design, and school-wide discipline policies. Written for teachers, the book—a worthwhile primer on what teacher autonomy is and what its many forms look like—offers an illustrative blueprint for one manner in which teachers may be empowered, rather than alienated or demonized, by the reform movement. Still, the book unconvincingly handles one key component of a worthy teacher-autonomy policy: Before you give teachers the keys to the castle, make sure you have royalty in the profession.
SOURCE: Kim Farris-Berg and Edward Dirswager with Amy Junge, Trusting Teachers with School Success (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2012).